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Armello is a very mysterious individual. Armello might have done some dealings with Pask for herbs and whatnot but it would require some effort to even give you his actual name as he is commonly only know as "The Raven". This is also why he doesn't really have much friends.
Part Five: The Investigation Begins
I journeyed to the castle in the morning, keen to investigate during the daylight hours as much as possible. I was hesitant about staying a night in the place, I admit. I am not usually one for ghost stories, but then again, I hadn't believed a castle existed here at all only a few days ago. Besides, what wildcat wanted to spend a night in a burned-out building that was also a grave?
The hike through the mountain path was treacherous, one wrong step and I could have tumbled off into the abyss like so many others. No wonder the place had few visitors even at the best of times. The directions the vermin had given me were vague, but every so often there was a hint that I was on the right track. Old weathered stones and rubble suggested that once there had been gatehouses and walls defending this meagre path to the castle. The tower I had seen was invisible at first, still shrouded by the morning mist. As I grew nearer though, the tower's form began to take shape, looming dark over my head. I shivered, as I imagined Ameki dressing in his finest cloak and lying on the master bed, waiting to die with a gleeful laugh.
Before I knew it, the mist had cleared and I was standing before the main gates of Castle Dornsturm. I was ill-prepared for the sight, to say the least. The castle was built for intimidation, an opulent yet stern design with spiked towers, and gargoyle statues lurking between the pillars. The windows were tall and thin, the glass panes long since destroyed. There were holes in the tiled roofs, and the doors to the entrance hall were gone, leaving a dark, yawning gap. The arched doorways and windows were blackened by soot. The evidence of the fire seemed as stark and obvious as if the place had conflagrated only last night, instead of hundreds of seasons ago.
At first it seemed there was little left to examine. The great hall was little more than an empty room with sooty walls and a floor covered in ashes. It was hardly the grand setting for a noble family. Yet on closer inspection there were clues as to its opulence, hidden beneath the ashes and the snow that had blown in. What appeared to be dusty splotches on the floor were actually puddles of melted gold, silver, pewter, and bronze. Decorations, candle-holders, cutlery and even some ceremonial weaponry had obviously once lined the hall and made it a splendid sight. I found the rusty remains of a blade at the far end of the hall, all that was left of an ornamental sword that had hung over the fireplace.
Yet my real curiosity was not in the gold the Dornsturms had left behind. I was eager, and admittedly nervous about ascending the stone staircase up the tower. I grew more uneasy as I ventured down the hallway to the stairs. It was darker in here, despite the patches of light that shone through the windows. What was I expecting to find? Ameki's body? Perhaps his spirit even now would appear before me, grinning madly at his uninvited guest. I shuddered, and quickened my pace to the stairs.
The stairs twisted up the tower, shafts of dim light coming through the slits in the walls. It was a defensive design, allowing archers to shoot out at a presumed wolverine attack. The castle's defences had never been tested before it was abandoned. I reached the top, and peeked through the doorway to the master bedroom.
The room was lit through a gap in the roof, a beam of light revealing the motes of dust as my presence disturbed the air. Though the bed itself had burned, it was easy to see how grand it had been, taking up a good part of the room. In fact, the patches of ash gave me a good idea of where the dressing tables, cupboards and drawers had stood. There was a balcony at the far end of the room, which looked out over the castle grounds.
I stepped cautiously as I went to examine the view from the balcony. Perhaps Ameki had not lain on the bed as I had imagined. Maybe at the very end he had stood on the balcony, trying to escape the heat. Perhaps he had been laughing as he watched his slaves fleeing the castle like ants below him.
I thought the tower held no more secrets, until I found the tooth. It was bluish-black, and at first I thought it was just a piece of burnt wood. As I looked closer at the object in my paw, I realised with a chill that I was holding one of Ameki's fangs. They had said he smiled sweetly. It almost moved me to tears, holding his tooth. How had such an innocent life turned so dark?
By the time my searching was done, a storm was rolling in, and I knew attempting the mountain path back was a sure way to get killed. I was stuck in Castle Dornsturm for the night, on my own. I decided to pitch my tent in the inner family room, which was cosier than the draughty great hall, and had no windows exposing me to the elements. I expected the castle to make night noises, bumps and creaks. Yet as I settled in my furs, the castle became eerily silent. Its silence was enough to keep me awake, listening for any movement. I waited for what seemed hours, but with no ghosts prowling the halls, I eventually drifted off, and began to dream.
Part Six: The Dream of the Past
_After I had stopped weeping over my father's body, there was silence. I did not speak to the slaves when they brought food, and I left the meals untouched. I would not see my mother, or my brothers. No matter where I went in the castle, I could smell the scent of my father. He was in the great hall, in the library, even in our bedrooms kissing us goodnight. I grew to hate the decor of this miserable place. Just living here reminded me of him every day.
I spoke to Redrick after a month. It was a quiet conversation in his chambers, where mother could not spy on me. She had become far too watchful over my movements, many of my slaves reported to her. I told Redrick of this, and how my grief would not leave with my father's memory so pervasive in this place. He embraced me and promised he would do all in his power to let me smile and be merry again.
I watched them take down father's portrait, and stored it in the attic. His personal coat of arms, his armour, his sword and his shield were all moved into that dusty, dark space where I would not see them. His bedroom was refurnished, all his old furniture was moved out of the tower. I took up residence there myself; I needed space away from the bustle of the castle below. I was sick of hearing footsteps on the landing outside my room, knowing the slaves would eavesdrop on me. The castle was cleaned, the walls freshly painted, and the last belongings of my father safely secreted away.
My life was better for a time, but all too soon I found myself spiralling deep into the pits of my depression. Some days I felt ravenous, other days I could not stomach a single morsel of food. I lost weight, and my mind constantly swirled in confusion. I could not focus on my books, so I left them unread. Music gave me no pleasure, so I did not play upon any of our instruments. Worse still, my apathy towards the joys of life seemed to be contagious; my brothers were often as listless as I was.
Fits of emotion brought me to destructive behaviour. I started seeing my father in every portrait of our ancestors; I tore them from the walls and shredded the canvases with my claws. At other times I thought I was my father; I would dress in my finest silk clothes and bark orders at the slaves. My memory would fail me; I would speak to Redrick on some important matter then forget. I could lie in my bed all night and not fall asleep; I resorted to wandering the halls at night, tired and worn, yet not collapsing into my dreams for days at a time.
I pass a mirror now, and I turn to see myself with a shudder. My squinting eyes are red from lack of sleep. The face that looked so handsome before father's death now looks sick and gaunt. I bare my teeth, my fangs are a bluish-black…_
Part Seven: The Descent into the Dungeons
I awoke with a gasp, the image of Ameki's hideously blackened teeth still fresh in my mind's eye. My head was throbbing, and I winced, putting my paws up to rub my temples. It was pitch-black in the room, cold and still. I lay there for a while, but it was plain that I could not fall back to sleep. The dream's details did not go hazy as one might expect. The feeling of being inside Ameki's head never left me. I felt as if I had really been dreaming for months, feeling the sickness and decay of Ameki's body well up inside me.
I lit the candle in my lantern and packed up my tent. There was one area I had not checked, and that was the dungeons. I had been afraid even in the daylight hours to venture below the castle itself, but now with the darkness all around, there was no stopping me. As I descended down the cold stone steps, I could feel the close atmosphere. There was hardly a sound, merely the padding of my own footpaws. With only the candle for light, silhouetted shapes loomed out at me in the dark. I crept past racks of rusted weapons, chains hanging from the ceiling, and all the old devices of torture. The dungeons were more like caverns, with the weight of the castle pressing down upon them.
The fire had not spread down into the deepest recesses of the labyrinthine dungeons. I found my way down to the cells themselves. I dreaded walking past each door, so sure that at any moment some ghostly beast would call at me from behind the bars. Yet no such apparition presented itself, and I made my way through the murky passageway undisturbed. The passage twisted again, and I found myself in a small storage room.
As I examined the contents of the crates and barrels of the room, I pondered again the dream. Had it been the product of my imagination, or some kind of vision of the past? If it was, what had brought it to my mind? I myself had never before displayed any sign of the powers of the seer. Yet something told me that it was not the mere fantasies of my mind.
I closed my eyes and relived the dream once more in my minds eye. I could feel Redrick carrying Ameki up the mountain path. I recalled his sorrow at seeing his younger brother so distraught, and his determination to make Ameki smile again. What had happened to make Ameki so sick in body and soul? They had removed all the old memories of their father. The furniture and the portraits were taken away, and they had even given the walls a fresh coat of paint.
My eyes opened. A fresh coat of paint. Such a curious little detail. As my eyes grew accustomed to seeing in the dark, I saw I had come to a stop before one of the barrels in the corner. Painted on the side was the phrase, Paint - White. I stared at the barrel for a time, a frown on my face as I contemplated the contents of the storage room. They had coated the castle's walls in white paint. Suddenly, the answer came to me, and I recoiled in shock. I was now face-to-face with the real culprit itself!
I realised with a sickening lurch that the storage room had held these barrels of lead paint in them for centuries now. It had no doubt deteriorated, and infiltrated every nook and cranny of this place. In my haste to flee the storage room, I dropped my lantern. The candle flickered and went out, and the breaking glass shattered the silence. My nerve broke, and I ran, arms outstretched blindly, scraping against the walls as I belted down the passageway.
I felt my way along the walls, trying in desperation to find the way out, and hearing a noise resonating through the hall. It was quiet at first, but it became louder, more insistent, a wretched, sobbing moan of a beast in anguish. I felt my blood going cold, the sweat on my body freezing over and making me shiver. The mournful cries were ringing in my ears, and I fell to my knees, crawling along the stone floor, sure that any moment Ameki's tearful ghost would find me.
I crawled from that poisoned, black pit and collapsed on the landing, trying to catch my breath. I knew I had to look behind me, to see if the sobbing creature had followed me. Slowly, trembling, I rolled over and gazed back down into the abyss. The black rectangular gap of the dungeon's entrance was silent and empty. I put my paws to my face, and felt something wet on my cheeks. The sobbing had in fact been coming from me, for I had realised the cause of Ameki's tragic demise, and I wept for him.
In his bid to make a fresh start, Ameki had the whole castle repainted. The walls had been coated in a clean, white paint to cover the old burgundy-red hue. At the time, the effects of using white lead as paint were little understood. They had wanted to make Ameki smile again, but instead they had lined the walls with poison, and turned the castle into a grand torture chamber that sapped away the minds and bodies of its inhabitants. And now, it was their tomb.
Part Eight: The Castle is Silent Again
I waited in the master bedroom tower for the sunrise. I stood on the balcony, breathing the fresh air. It must have happened slowly, the poison invisibly seeping into them. The slaves had lived outside of the main premises, which explained why they had not shared in the insanity of the Dornsturms. I felt a serene calm descend over me, as I felt the mystery was at last put to rest.
Yet on this smooth surface of calm, there was one ripple that disturbed my repose. I had dreamed of Ameki's symptoms before knowing the cause of his madness. How then had this vision come to me? With this thought in mind, I felt far less comfortable standing in the same room in which he had perished in flame. I felt I was trespassing, and the castle wanted me gone.
I fled the castle at first light, when I could at last see the mountain pathway. The snow had swept clean my footsteps from my journey up here, and I knew that once I had left the castle, my tracks would once again disappear. It would be as if nobeast had visited the ancient castle at all. I did not stop in the village of Anhalt, instead choosing to put as much distance between me and the castle as possible.
When I reached the ridge where I had first seen the castle, I turned, and gave it one final glance. I saw the tower's black silhouette lit by the rising sun. The mist was seeping over the jagged rocks and along the mountain slopes. It enveloped the tower, and that was the last time I gazed upon Castle Dornsturm.